Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: Vladimir Putin calls for full crash investigation
Dutch PM Mark Rutte says world's view of Russia has changed 'fundamentally' since plane went down
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia would use its influence with separatists in eastern Ukraine to allow a full investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 but said the West must put pressure on Kyiv to end hostilities.
Putin also called on Western powers not to meddle in Russia's domestic affairs and said steps were needed to strengthen the country's military capabilities because of moves by NATO and to protect the economy from "external threats."
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"We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough," Putin said at the start of a meeting with defence and security chiefs in Moscow.
Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia, and we will not impose sanctions against you.- Vladimir Putin, Russian president
"Ultimately, there is a need to call on the authorities in Kyiv to respect basic norms of decency, and at least for a short time implement a ceasefire," he said.
Putin's comments were his first detailed response in public to Western criticism of Russia's role in Ukraine since the Malaysian airliner was brought down on Thursday, killing 298 people.
Reading from notes at the head of a long table with officials seated on each side, Putin spoke much more forcefully than during brief televised remarks on the plane's downing first released in the early hours of Monday, when he had seemed less assured than usual.
Putin reiterated his belief that protests that toppled Ukraine's former Russian-backed leader were instigated and funded from abroad.
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Despite Western sanctions, he said Moscow would stand by separatists in eastern Ukraine whom, he described as part of a popular rising against an illegal coup.
"Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia, and we will not impose sanctions against you," Putin said. "This is a strange and unacceptable logic."
He did not, however, directly address the question of whether Russia has been arming the rebels - he has denied such accusations before.
Dutch PM calls for EU to pressure Russia
Putin’s comments came after two days of intense pressure from the international community, which was outraged as pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine delayed the investigation into the MH17 crash and the return of victims’ bodies.
In Amsterdam, Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte said attitudes towards Russia have changed "fundamentally" since the Malaysian Airlines plane went down, and the European Union must put pressure on Moscow to do more to calm the unrest in eastern Ukraine.
European officials have said that the Dutch, who lost 193 citizens in last Thursday's crash, have the moral weight to demand tougher sanctions and other measures against Russia from their European partners.
"We want justice, a united European Union approach and pressure on Russia to do more," Mark Rutte said. "Our priorities are getting our people back, an independent investigation, and justice."
EU imposes new sanctions on Russian officials
The European Union agreed Tuesday in Brussels to impose new sanctions against officials deemed responsible for Russia's actions in Ukraine. But European foreign ministers stopped short, at least for now, of more forceful sanctions that would hit full sectors of the Russian economy.
The EU agreed to impose visa bans and asset freezes on more Russian officials, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said. He did not say how many officials were targeted or reveal their names.
He said the ministers also asked the 28-nation bloc's executive arm to prepare for more sweeping sanctions — including targeting the arms, energy and financial sectors — if Russia fails to back down from destabilizing Ukraine.
"Russia has not done enough to contribute to a de-escalation of the conflict," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
The meeting featured several tense exchanges. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius blamed "terrorists supplied by Moscow" for the airliner's destruction and the deaths of everyone aboard, and said he hoped the EU will impose beefed-up sanctions on President Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Linkevicius called for an arms embargo — a direct challenge to France, which is building two warships for the Russian navy.
French President Francois Hollande defended the deal, saying it was finalized in 2011 before any sanctions and that the ships would be delivered without any weapons.
So far, EU sanctions against Russia and its supporters in Ukraine have been relatively mild, though the EU was moving already to broaden them before the downing of the Malaysia Airlines.
With files from The Associated Press